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Nash v. Wollan

February 18, 2003

BARBARA NASH, APPELLANT, HENNEPIN COUNTY, RESPONDENT,
v.
BRUCE WOLLAN, RESPONDENT, KEVIN GOODNO, COMMISSIONER OF HUMAN SERVICES, RESPONDENT.



Judicial Appeal Panel File No. 225

Considered and decided by Shumaker, Presiding Judge, Lansing, Judge, and Minge, Judge.

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

Under the plain language of the Minnesota Commitment and Treatment Act, Minn. Stat. ch. 253B (2002), an interested person does not have standing to petition the judicial appeal panel for rehearing and reconsideration of the Commissioner of Human Services' order to transfer a mentally ill and dangerous patient to an open hospital. Minn. Stat. §á253B.19. Although the statute does not designate an interested person as a party, an interested person may otherwise become a party through the process of intervention under rule 24 of the Minnesota Rules of Civil Procedure.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gordon W. Shumaker, Judge

Affirmed; motion granted in part

OPINION

Respondent Bruce Wollan was committed for an indeterminate period to the state security hospital in 1981 as mentally ill and dangerous and has been a patient there since that time. In December 2000, Wollan petitioned for a transfer to an open hospital, and a special review board reviewed the petition. The special review board recommended approval, and the commissioner ordered Wollan's transfer to an open hospital.

Hennepin County, as the county of Wollan's commitment, and appellant Barbara Nash, Wollan's sister and victim of Wollan's assault, filed separate petitions with the judicial appeal panel for rehearing and reconsideration of the commissioner's transfer order. Nash also moved to require Wollan to submit to an adverse psychological examination. The commissioner moved to dismiss Nash's petition and motion on the ground that she is not a party to the proceeding and therefore lacks standing to seek relief. Wollan also moved to dismiss Nash's petition and motion.

After hearing arguments, the judicial appeal panel ruled that Nash is not a party to the proceeding under the clear and unambiguous language of the controlling statute and granted the commissioner's motion. Nash appeals this ruling, contending that she is a party under the Minnesota Commitment and Treatment Act, Minn. Stat. ch. 253B, to proceedings involving Wollan.

Because the plain language of the controlling statute does not grant party status to interested persons other than the committed individual and the county attorney of the county of commitment, we affirm.

FACTS

Respondent Bruce Carlton Wollan has a long history of substance abuse, mental illness, violence, and institutional commitments. He was first committed to a state hospital as mentally ill in 1969. During a provisional discharge from that hospital in 1971, Wollan assaulted his sister, appellant Barbara Nash, with a meat cleaver and was sent to prison. The prison granted Wollan a medical parole to the state security hospital, and, while on parole in 1977, he bit off the ear of a guest at a friend's party. In 1978, Wollan beat his mother repeatedly with a fireplace poker and then stabbed her to death with a knife. He was tried for murder, found not guilty by reason of insanity, and in 1981 committed for an indeterminate period to the state security hospital as mentally ill and dangerous. He has been a patient there ever since.

In 1982, the state security hospital considered issuing passes that would allow Wollan to leave the hospital grounds. Hennepin County, as the county of commitment, opposed the issuance of passes to Wollan. After a hearing, the district court concluded that passes could not be issued without the prior approval of a special review board. The supreme court later reversed that ruling. Hennepin County v. Levine, 345 N.W.2d 217, 218 (Minn. 1984). But in 1984, the legislature amended the applicable law to provide that an "interested person" may request a review by the special review board before a committed patient is placed on pass-eligible status. 1984 Minn. Laws ch. 623, §á6.

In 1985, Nash brought a declaratory judgment action to determine her right to oppose the placement of Wollan on pass-eligible status. In its order and memorandum in that action, the district court analogized Nash's status to that of "a plaintiff in a civil action or a petitioner in an equitable matter" and concluded that she had a right at any review hearing to testify, call witnesses, cross-examine witnesses, and to present evidence, and that she also had a right to examine medical records. The Minnesota Department of Human Services and Wollan jointly appealed.

On appeal, this court held that Nash was an interested person in the matter of the proposal to change Wollan's medical status to that of pass-eligible and that Nash had a right to participate in any review hearing. In re Wollan, 390 N.W.2d 839, 843 (Minn. App. 1986). This court further held that the district court has discretion to disclose to an interested person ...


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